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As his new restaurant opens on Folkestone’s harbour front, acclaimed chef Mark Sargeant discusses the unique tastes of his home county
Mark Sargeant is truly a man of Kent. He was born here, schooled here, trained here and now, aged 37, lives here still. The only time he hasn’t been here, in fact, was when he was in London, building a cooking career with impressive alacrity.
Mark worked with Stephen Terry at Coast in Mayfair, before being hired by the chef’s close friend Gordon Ramsay, who set him up at his restaurants, including Aubergine and Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. Along the way, in 1996, he was declared Young Chef of the Year. He has since appeared on television and has helped Ramsay with various publishing projects.
Yet in spite of his professional adventures Mark remains loyal to his home county. ‘Kent is a fantastic region which is slightly overlooked,’ he says. ‘When you think of great local food you might think of Cornwall or Lancashire but Kent, the Garden of England, has excellent fruit and livestock – particularly the lamb and beef. The fish from Folkestone and Whitstable is exceptional, too.’
The opening of Rocksalt, his new restaurant in Folkestone, is evidence of Mark’s attachment to the county – but it is not only the locale but also the localness of his ingredients that confirm this commitment. ‘We’re using as much local produce as we can,’ he says. ‘All our meat is from the region. The cheeses are from Kent and East Sussex (as well as one or two French ones). We’re growing salads and herbs as well as broad beans, squashes and other vegetables. We’re aiming to be 30-40% self-sufficient.’
Then there’s the fish. ‘We’re working with the Folkestone Trawler Company. The harbour is directly beneath the restaurant. Just yesterday, a fisherman came up to my window with six sea bass, still alive.’
Mark has also taken over an old smoker just over the road from the restaurant (where he is opening, separately, a licensed fish-and-chip shop). His enthusiasm for fish is reflected on his menus. ‘One of my personal favourites, which we serve as a special, is the mackerel pasty with pickled cucumber and watercress salad. And our fish soup is the best there is.’
Prices are pleasingly democratic and the wine list features both low-priced and prestigious bottles, including a sparkling wine produced at the Gusbourne vineyard at Appledore, just 20 miles away.
If diners wish to stay, they can check into one of the ‘Rocksalt rooms’ in a building just over the road – another example of how Mark likes to keep things very local indeed.
Rocksalt, 4-5 Fishmarket, Folkestone, CT19 6AA, tel: 01303 884633
Rocksalt is due to open June 2011. For more information, call 01303 884633
This article first appeared in Square Meal, Venues & Events, summer 2011